Sam Shalabi’s Land Of Kush project returns: his psych-arabic jazz orchestra has produced a second album of intensely genre-defying, polymorphic, big band madness. Where Shalabi structured last year’s mesmerising Against The Day album around the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, this time Shalabi tackles concepts of shame, sexuality and society in a new multi-movement work entitled Monogamy.
Rounding up many of the same Montreal-based improv and experimental players featured on Against The Day, Shalabi deploys a cast of two dozen musicians and sound artists to realise this fantastic new compositional hybrid of Middle Eastern tropes and Western vocabularies of jazz, psychedelia and experimental/free music. For the Monogamy album, the group has been given it’s own sub-moniker as The Egyptian Light Orchestra.
The band is a truly hydra-headed beast on this recording; string, brass and woodwinds careen around the drone/backbeat of the major movements, shifting between short melodic punctuations, free excursions, and consolidated unison lines. Dissonant piano, synth and electronics bubble below, above and at the outer limits of the mix. Several transitions also allow for various players to stretch out in some lovely virtuosic solo passages. Shalabi’s oud anchors the album’s opening and closing pieces, as well as the glorious “Tunnel Visions” piece at the album’s midpoint. The rhythm section – comprising standard trap kits, upright basses and traditional Eastern percussion – holds down one hypnotic groove after another.
Shalabi has once again structured his orchestral work to feature primarily female vocalists who further challenge the categorisation of the music, conjuring everything from Galas- or Ono-style ululation (“The 1st And The Last”) to cabaret/jazz (“Scars”) to ethereal psych-folk (“Tunnel Visions”). He also employs a recurring digitally-processed voice track of “dirty” glossal phrases and cut-ups that interacts rhythmically and conceptually with the work. This sonic through-line frames and re-frames the music as psycho-sexual commentary and narrative, imbuing Monogamy’s many stylistic moments and movements with a higher conceptual power: frustration/liberation, chastity/carnality, innocence/shame, purity/impurity. Of course there’s a ‘healthy’ dose of id at play here as well – particularly on “Fisherman”, where the emotionless, robotic voice takes over in a steady stream of irreverent, desecrating, potty-mouthed absurdism. The album’s title track “Monogamy” fittingly rallies the work’s conceptual terrain, with a gorgeous vocal melody spinning a concise alphabetised summation:
A is for the apple tree
B is for Beelzebub and he’s the snake
C is for the curse of Ham
D is for the drugs that you’re now forced to take
E is for eternity
F is for the fucking that you did outside
G is for the Giving Tree
H is for the Holy Spirit’s bride
And all of this comes out
In little birdlike trills
You’ll reach for paper towels
To clean up all your spills
released June 1, 2010
Sam Shalabi, oud, composition & direction
Thierry Amar, contrebasse
Michel Bonneau, percussion
Nicolas Caloia, cello
Patrick Conan, percussion
Marie Davidson, voice
Luke Dawson, contrebasse
Omar Dewachi, oud & saz
Xarah Dion, synthesizers & piano
Ariel Engle, voice & verse
David Gossage, flutes
Genevieve Heistek, viola
Elizabeth Lima, clarinet
Katie Moore, voice & verse
Nadia Moss, synthesizers
Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, voice, verse & cassettes
Alexandre St-Onge, electronics
Jason Sharp, baritone & bass saxophone
Gavin John Sheehan, classical guitar
Molly Sweeney, voice & verse
Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, voice & verse
Nathan Ward, percussion
Josh Zubot, violin
Lyrics on “Scars” by Elizabeth Anka Vajagic.
Lyrics on “Tunnel Visions” by Katie Moore.
Lyrics on “Fisherman” by Ariel Engle.
Lyrics on “Monogamy” by Molly Sweeney.
Lyrics on “Like The Thread Of A Spider” by the peoples of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The voice of ‘Junior’ was written and recorded by Sam Shalabi and Gavin Sheehan.
“Boo” is an improvisation by Elizabeth Lima and Luke Dawson based on “Scars”.
Recorded & mixed at Thee Mighty Hotel2Tango by Radwan Ghazi Moumneh in the autumn of 2009 & winter of 2010. Mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market.
Land Of Kush is a large orchestra assembled and directed by composer and musician Sam Shalabi, one of Montreal's most unique
and prolific players over the past decades. Shalabi performs constantly on electric guitar and oud, with numerous jazz and free improv ensembles, membership in a kaleidoscope of avant rock bands, and at the compositional helm of various musical assemblages large and small....more